Ginger eases digestive symptoms in RRMS patients: Trial data

Previous data have suggested the supplement helped improve quality of life

Margarida Maia, PhD avatar

by Margarida Maia, PhD |

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Taking a ginger supplement eased constipation, nausea, bloating, and abdominal pain in people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) who took part in a small clinical trial in Iran.

The findings add to previous trial data that indicated the supplement was associated with less disability and improved quality of life, further supporting the spice as a potential treatment option in this patient population.

The trial data were detailed in “The effects of ginger supplementation on common gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial,” published in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies.

Ginger has a long history of medicinal use. Its root is thought to contain both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, which could benefit people with autoimmune or inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

It’s also long been claimed to soothe abdominal discomfort, ease nausea and vomiting, and shorten bowel transit time. Gastrointestinal symptoms are common with MS, leading researchers in Iran to open a trial (IRCT20180818040827N3) to investigate the effects of ginger supplements against a placebo in 52 adults, ages 18-50, with a diagnosis of RRMS.

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Studying digestive symptoms

After a three-week run-in period, the participants were randomly assigned to take oral tablets containing either 500 mg of a ginger supplement (26 patients) or a placebo (26 patients), three times daily with meals for 12 weeks, or about three months.

The study’s goals included evaluating changes in disability and quality of life as assessed with validated, MS-specific measures, along with changes in gastrointestinal symptoms and blood levels of several MS-related biomarkers. Previously published results showed that patients on ginger supplements had significantly less disability, significantly better quality of life, and significantly lower levels of disease biomarkers relative to those on a placebo. The current report concerned findings related to gastrointestinal symptoms.

At  the start of the study and after 12 weeks, the participants were asked to score the frequency and severity of their symptoms on a visual analogue scale (VAS) from 0 to 100 — from least to most frequent or severe.

None of the patients were receiving medication for gastrointestinal symptoms. Also, demographic and medical features, “energy and nutrient intakes as well as physical activity levels were not significantly different between the two groups,” the researchers said.

Benefits of ginger supplement

Generally, gastrointestinal symptoms became less severe and less frequent with ginger supplements, but worsened and occurred more often with a placebo.

Patients taking ginger had significantly less frequent constipation, with a mean VAS reduction of 23.6 points versus an increase of 14.8 points in the placebo group. Constipation also became less severe — 24.2 points less with the supplement versus 11.4 points more on the placebo.

The supplement also helped reduce the frequency of nausea, with a 12.4-point drop versus an increase of 3.8 points in the placebo group. Nausea was also less severe (13.4 points less vs. 6.9 points more).

The ginger group also saw significantly less severe bloating (11.6 points less) and abdominal pain (5.7-point drop), while the placebo group had worsening in both (an increase of 3 to 4 points in each).

Moreover, “minor side effects were seen during this clinical trial (7.7% in the ginger group vs. 11.5% in the placebo group),” the researchers wrote.

The total ginger dose taken in a day was 1,500 mg. Taking up to 4,000 mg daily is generally considered safe, the researchers said.

“Ginger consumption can improve constipation, nausea, bloating, and abdominal pain in patients with RRMS,” the researchers wrote, adding there was no effect on other symptoms, including difficulty swallowing, diarrhea, burping, passing gas, heartburn, or anorexia.

The study included only RRMS patients with mild to moderate gastrointestinal symptoms, which the researchers said may limit generalizing the findings to other types of MS and more severe symptoms. “Further clinical trials and mechanistic studies are necessary to confirm these findings,” they said.